Care and Feeding

My Daughter’s Friend Gets Snacks Whenever She Asks, and Now My Kid Wants Them Too

We maintain a strict meal schedule at home. Can I ask the friend’s parents to stop handing out Goldfish in front of my child?

A child eating a cracker while holding another cracker
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Christoffer Askman/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter Arya is almost 2, and she and her day care friend Sansa like spending time together. My husband and I like Sansa’s parents, Jon and Dany, and we were hoping to make parent friends. We’ve done multiple play dates and signed the toddlers up for baby gymnastics together. All great! My only issue is that Sansa’s parents seem to feed Sansa nonstop snacks on our play dates, and it’s causing my kid to melt down. I am trying inwardly to withhold judgment, but it’s starting to bother me.

My food philosophy, after years of disordered eating, is to give Arya as much real food as possible and stick to designated meal/snack times. I don’t restrict how much she eats, but I determine what and when. So I am getting frustrated when, on our play dates, the second that Sansa whines, Dany produces a bag of Goldfish from her pocket. It doesn’t matter that it’s clear to me that Sansa wants a toy or something else unrelated to hunger. I know that every parent chooses their battles and is dealing with their stuff … but what am I supposed to do when Arya recognizes the Goldfish and starts crying to eat them herself? We did a FaceTime play date under quarantine, and Arya kept getting upset when she was watching Sansa having a pouch. Outside of this, I like Jon and Dany and want to keep their friendship. I want to ask them to stop giving Sansa snacks in front of Arya during our (currently virtual but eventually back in person) play dates. Is that unreasonable?

—Sensible Snacker

Dear SS,

I think you should consider the possibility that Sansa’s parent(s) may also have some issues in their background that could inform the way that they choose to dole out snacks, such as food insecurity, a caregiver who was unreasonably restrictive about snacking, or their own battle with disordered eating. It may also be worth considering if your response to watching Sansa snack constantly is simply out of concern for Arya’s health, or if it may also be informed by a trigger related to your food struggles—both of which are completely reasonable, but may require a somewhat different reckoning within.

Sticking primarily to designated meal and snack schedules is one thing; only allowing a child to eat at predetermined times is another, one that completely ignores the fact that hunger does not operate on a perfect, easy-to-follow timeline. Should your little one get a bite to eat every time she sees Sansa with one? Of course not. But I think that refusing to allow for the possibility that seeing her buddy eat could coincide with an actual need for food is a bit too rigid for someone dealing with a child who is young enough to have an appetite at random times of the day and a burning need to have that appetite satiated.

You can share your concerns with Sansa’s parents, and you can also remind Arya that she is not obligated to eat every time she sees her buddy have a bite. But please don’t be so beholden to the idea that your approach to feeding is infallible; it is unlikely that an extra Kind bar or the sight of someone munching on Goldfish will upend everything you’ve worked to instill. Wishing you all the best in healing and holding space for your little one to navigate her own relationship to food.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is 20 and has always been pretty smart. We did our best to teach her financial literacy, but I just found out today that she joined a multilevel marketing company. I did some research, and it looks like one of those predatory pyramid schemes where success is basically impossible. I talked with her and showed her some statistics, but she insists that she can make money from it. She has student loans to pay off and only works part time at a minimum wage job, so she doesn’t have any money to be wasting. What can I do to steer her away from this?

—Mom Smells a Scam

Dear MSaS,

Aww, baby’s first pyramid scheme! So many of us fell victim to one, or three, back before we came to truly understand MLM is even more dubious than the scam that is regular, old-fashioned capitalism. I’ll never forget when a homegirl who has never been larger than a size 4 worked for one such company that sold foundation garments that were so restrictive they made Spanx look like cozy period sweats—seriously, they frequently required an additional person to stuff you in, a task often put before the salesperson upon your first purchase (if you were wondering why I mentioned her size).

Alas, as your research rightly determined, these companies are horrid, and a lot of well-meaning folks end up losing a ton of money trying to get rich quick-ish. It’s important that you continue to share your findings with your daughter, ideally those that are specific to the brand that managed to snag her. The more evidence she has pointing toward how unlikely it is that she’ll ever be profitable, the better; remind her that the current state of the country renders success even more improbable. Find out just what was it about this particular company and the MLM concept in general that attracted her interest. If she saw it as little more than a ticket to fast money, remind her that it simply doesn’t work that way. If she believed in the products or has an interest in sales or marketing, talk to her about ways that she can explore something sustainable that has some alignment with her natural interests.

Ultimately, she may just have to learn this lesson the hard way, and if doing so may put her in a financial situation that you either can or won’t bail her out of, let her know now as opposed to waiting until she’s desperate and counting on the Bank of Mom to come to her rescue. Best of luck to you both!

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a high school underclassman, and my sibling is in middle school. My parents, after being reasonably strict with me throughout my entire grade school existence, completely dropped this in favor of a no-discipline approach with them. I’ve always just accepted this as “different child, different parenting style,” and it’s never had a significant impact on me.

However, now the coronavirus is happening, and we’re all stuck in the same small house (me and my sibling in the same tiny room we’ve been in since they were born), and this is becoming too much to bear. My sibling has complete control over basically everything in the house; I can’t cook anything they don’t like or watch any TV they don’t find entertaining, and I have to drop everything at a moment’s notice if they need a favor done. If I refuse, which I often do, they’ll do everything in their power to be as annoying as possible (dance in front of the TV so I can’t see what’s happening, purposely mess up the kitchen/bathroom/our room, screech at the top of their lungs and spit in my face) for upward of 30 minutes, until I lose my temper, upon which my parents instantly make an appearance to get angry at me for being inflexible. I’m woken up at 6 every morning by them watching loud reality TV on the other side of the room, and I can’t fall asleep before midnight without being woken up by their screaming (they have no bedtime or inside voice). We can’t be in the same room without them insulting my appearance or threatening to post embarrassing videos of me. I’m also pretty sure they have been stealing my money.

When I first attempted to speak to my parents about all this, they said that they wouldn’t get involved (thanks to some study that says it’s good for siblings to argue on their own). But they’ve recently started giving me these weird, tear-filled confessions about how they have no idea how to deal with my sibling and how they think that they’re terrible parents, which I feel unprepared to handle on all fronts. One final thing I should mention is that if I slap my sibling, they’ll stop for a little bit, at the expense of my parents’ trust in me and my moral compass. We live in a very affected city, and our shelter-in-place order will probably hold for over a month. I don’t want to be the violent older sibling, but how do I get them to cool it before I go insane?

—Can’t Give Peace a Chance

Dear CGPaC,

I’m sorry that you are going through such a challenging time. The crumbling of the parental “fourth wall” is a particularly difficult thing to bear—even for adult children—and your parents have dropped quite a load on you by admitting to their frustrations and insecurities about how they have raised your sibling. While there may be something affirming about them trusting you enough to open up in such a way, by your own admission, you feel ill-equipped to handle it, and it’s being foisted upon you during an already stressful period of time.

You did a great job articulating the situation in your letter to us, so I am confident that you can be just as precise in discussing that with your parents. Let them know that you appreciate their honesty, but that it has made you feel even more overwhelmed by everything that is going on. Be willing to do your part to support them in bringing order to a household that, perhaps, has known very little since the birth of your sibling, but also be honest about the fact that you need them to make adjustments to how they parent in order for you to have some semblance of peace. They are the adults, they have created this situation, and they have to take the bulk of the responsibility for addressing it.

Work with them to develop some rituals and rules intended to give you and your sibling time to cook, watch TV, and do other things around the house independent of one another, and ask that they establish the appropriate consequences for when either of you violates them. It is totally unreasonable for you to have to deal with loud screens or voices first thing in the morning or just before bed on a daily basis, and I’m truly sorry that your parents have failed to attend to your needs after raising you to be inclined toward having such needs in the first place.

Your parents likely need the assistance of a professional counselor or therapist, which is more difficult to access right now but certainly not impossible to attain remotely. Be persistent when it comes to letting them know how you feel; do not let infractions pile up before going to them, keep them abreast of what your sibling is doing, and plead with them to take meaningful action toward improving order in your home.

Again, I’m sorry you are going through this, and I hope your parents can pull it together to provide the stability and support you and your sibling need so desperately right now. However, as far as slapping your sibling in the face, you don’t need me to tell you how awful, inappropriate, and truly ineffective that sort of behavior is—you sound like a young person who knows much better than that. It’s one thing to defend yourself physically if necessary and another to attempt to discipline your sibling with your hands. You know better, so please do better. Sending you lots of strength and support. I truly hope all of you get some peace sooner rather than later.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We have suspected, and now have evidence, that our 6-year-old is performing sly acts of anarchy around the house. He has taken to hiding toys and items from us, causing moments of confusion by giving inaccurate answers to questions on purpose, and other small yet disruptive shenanigans. He is a very bright kid whom I would generally describe as kindhearted and approval-seeking; he even follows the rules more often than not!

I’m puzzled. Is this something we should be concerned about? Should we keep a closer eye on him? Dole out punishments? I appreciate his cleverness but am bothered by the amount of time and stress that these antics have caused. What do you think?

—Where Are My Glasses?

Dear WAMG,

The behavior you are describing certainly sounds like a cry for attention. Has your son recently been tasked with keeping himself entertained more often than he has in the past? Is he dealing with having his parents working from home for the first time or on a more regular basis than in the past?

You didn’t indicate so in your letter, but judging from when you sent it, I’d wager that your daily lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic in some significant way. Perhaps this new behavior is due in part to the stress your son is experiencing as a result of these changes and/or from the uncertainty he is experiencing about this very scary set of circumstances that has likely left the adults in the household feeling and behaving somewhat differently than normal. You and your partner should have a serious heart-to-heart with him about how he’s processing everything and discuss how it may have inspired him to take on some not-so-great new habits.

Regardless of whether the “anarchy” began after a school shutdown or long before, you should make it clear to him that what he is doing is causing his parents to feel frustrated, confused, annoyed, and other emotions that we should not intentionally stir in people we love, even when we are upset with them or when we are experiencing those bad feelings ourselves and don’t know how to cope.

Should you watch him more closely? Absolutely. Punish him? Depends on the extent of his misdeeds and how you’ve addressed them previously. For example, if you warn him twice that there will be consequences for hiding Mommy’s glasses, if you don’t keep your word on the third infraction, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a fourth. If we’re talking about something more low-stakes, like pretending not to know that the opposite of hot is cold while playing a trivia game, take those moments to remind him that feigning cluelessness is not cute or charming and can ruin the fun of play for everyone else.

Alas, 6-year-olds are habitual line-steppers and still poking and prodding at boundaries to see what they can and can’t get away with. A quick “look at me” tactic may be a call for some much-needed affection, an exploration of the world around him, or simply the byproduct of boredom. Take the time to effectively communicate with your little guy to find out what may be driving him, and establish clear expectations regarding his behavior that you are capable of adhering to more often than not. Best of luck!

— Jamilah

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I was driving and hit a 5-year-old child. I was not charged, as there was no speed or alcohol involved—he ran out onto the road while his mother was momentarily distracted. He was left with severe and permanent disabilities. I was a couple of days away from starting a new job but couldn’t work because I was in so much shock. I get panic attacks at the thought of driving and it’s difficult to even be around children. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I know I need help, but I have no insurance and can’t afford it. I was told I need to sue the parents of the child to get a payout from their insurance, which would then pay for my treatment. On one hand, I desperately want some kind of psychological treatment. But the thought of suing the parents at the worst time of their life—that seems like pure evil. What would you do in my situation?